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D) Other.

While visiting the Gold Bug shop in Pasadena, a wonderful place that more closely resembles a cabinet of curiosity than a gift store, jewelry shop or art gallery, I was reminded of my love for the unclassifiable.

Its a fundamental problem that accompanies our need for taxonomy, I guess. When I used to visit real record stores (remember those?), they had racks for “Rock”, “Jazz”, “Classical” and so on, but often, the music I liked best was the stuff that didn’t fit neatly into one of those racks. Is Laurie Anderson rock? Not really, but that’s where they put her. Unfortunately, the “hard to classify” quality that made her so interesting also made her hard to sell, I imagine. It’s easier to sell something when there’s an obvious shelf to put it on.

The best stores have a special shelf set aside for this stuff. It might say “Other” or “Miscellaneous” or “Weird shit”. This is my shelf — I’m always looking for the “Other” shelf.

If I’m presented with an online store catalog, and it provides an “Other” – that’s the first thing I look at. I know the most interesting things will be sitting in that collection, gathering dust.

For example, the first time I visited the iPhone app store, and was presented with the following categories:

Games
Entertainment
Utilities
Social Networking
Music
Productivity
Lifestyle
.
.
.

The first thing I did was scroll to the bottom of the list. It ended with

.
.
.
Weather
Books
Medical

“Crap!” I thought. “Where’s Other?” The lack of an “Other” shelf means that some remarkably innovative apps are probably getting misfiled (under Enterainment or Lifestyle or who knows what), and they are not being discovered (although I imagine social networks can ameliorate this problem a bit).

By the way, after kvetching for a bit, I checked out the stuff in “Medical”. Woah!

Similarly, when I occasionally find myself filling out surveys, I hate it when I get a series of multiple choice questions that don’t provide an “other” on each and every question whose choices don’t encompass the known universe of possibility. For example, the “What Industry are you employed in?” question on many registration forms appears to have been constructed at some time in the 1980s, and has no actual bearing on the present universe. Yes, I use computers for a living, but I am neither in “High Tech,” nor in “Engineering,” nor “Communications” nor “Entertainment”. For much of my career, I’ve been in businesses which straddle these areas, among others.

If I’m filling out a paper survey that has a question like this, I simply pencil in my own “Z: Other” and circle it.

For online surveys you end up being forced to pick a close but inappropriate answer, which causes the survey to artificially fit into the marketer’s predefined world view. Yuck.

So, back to my hypothetical record store. What causes something to go on the “other” shelf? There are a few principal reasons I can think of:

A) It straddles two or more categories, such as PDQ Bach, which is both classical music and comedy (and often succeeds at being neither).

B) The actual category is so small it’s uneconomical to provide a unique shelf, such as Sound Effects and Bird Song records (both of which I own, due to my penchant for scouring the “Other” bin). Speaking of which, Goldbug, which got me started on this tirade, has a highly desirable, but pricey, collection of ingeniously designed birdcalls. Check ’em out. I want ’em all.

C) It is a pioneering work, which may one day have company in its own category. Or it might, if anyone manages to find it.

D) Other.

2 Responses to “D) Other.”

  1. Auntie P Says:

    I couldn’t agree more!

  2. cobalt Says:

    ooooh, I’d love this shop too! Thanks for your FB entry so I could find this article. Am off to LA for 6 days in March, thinking how far it would be to drive there…